October 30, 2001 02:15pm
Supreme Court Discusses Porn Depicting Minors
by: James Vicini
(WASHINGTON, DC) -- The U.S. Supreme Court [http://www.SupremeCourtUS.gov] questioned on Tuesday whether a law aimed at computer-generated pictures that "convey the impression of child pornography" may be applied to popular, award-winning movies such as "Traffic," "Lolita," "Romeo and Juliet" and "Titanic."
The justices grappled with a 1996 federal law covering computer-generated images that do not involve real children and whether it may be applied to very young adult actors and actresses who look like minors in a movie.
Justice Stephen Breyer cited "Traffic" [http://TrafficTheMovie.com] with the scene of the high school daughter of the nation's drug czar appearing to have sex with a drug dealer; "Lolita," a film about a middle-aged man's obsession with a young girl; and "Titanic" [http://TitanicMovie.com], depicting a love affair by a young couple on a doomed ship.
He said each film showed simulated sexual activity by a minor. "Why am I not guilty under your interpretation of a federal crime?" Breyer asked lawyer for government Deputy Solicitor General Paul Clement.
Justice Antonin Scalia quickly interrupted, trying to assist Clement, saying the law defined specific sexual conduct, such as intercourse, masturbation, bestiality and showing of the genitals.
No Crime to Rent "Traffic"
"We're not prosecuting people who pick up 'Traffic' at the Blockbuster," Clement said, referring to the video rental chain.
The 1996 law covered any visual depiction "that appears to be a minor engaging in sexually explicit conduct." The law contained a provision prohibiting any visual depiction "that conveys the impression" of a minor engaging in such conduct.
The so-called "virtual" child pornography law makes it a crime to have computer-generated pictures of what appears to be minors engaging in sexual acts, even if the images do not involve real children.
Justice Sandra Day O'Connor said the Supreme Court previous rulings have held that the pornography actually harmed the child. "What is your primary reliance when you don't have that?" she asked Clement.
Justice John Paul Stevens asked whether Clement, an appointee of President Bush, felt the law would prohibit an 18-year-old from playing certain movie roles.
Clement replied that movie studios could simply not include scenes of sexually explicit conduct or could use a "body double" - another actress or actor to play the scene.
H. Louis Sirkin, representing a trade association of businesses involved in selling "adult-oriented materials" [http://FreeSpeechCoalition.com] argued the law should be struck down as a form of censorship that violates constitutional free-speech rights.
He said the law was too broad to pass constitutional muster. "It's a blanket, across-the-board prohibition," Sirkin said, adding that the law failed to make an exception for medical or scientific material.
As soon as Sirkin began his arguments, Scalia said: "I am trying to think of what great works of art would be taken away from us if we were unable to show minors copulating."
Stevens cited as a possible example the movie of the Shakespeare play about young lovers, "Romeo and Juliet."
Scalia responded: "You've seen a different version of that than I have."
The Supreme Court is expected to issue it's ruling early next year.
Chief Justice William Rehnquist opened the session by announcing the court would hear arguments at the U.S. courthouse on Wednesday for the third day in a row after anthrax was discovered in the court's basement mailroom.